The gospel according to Bruce
By Arnold Wayne Jones – Staff Writer
Jul 27, 2006, 18:54
Funnyman Vilanch weighs in on Kaballah, â€˜The DaVinci Codeâ€™ and why Judaism is the perfect religion for the non-devout
GAG EXPERT: Vilanch is one of Hollywoodâ€™s most sought-after comedy scribes. Winner of two Emmys for his contributions to the Academy Awards, he got his big break when Bette Midler hired him to provide material for her club act. He recently appeared as Edna Turnblad in the musical version of â€œHairsprayâ€ and lost 20 pounds on VH1â€™s â€œCelebrity Fit Club.â€
There are many adjectives that pop to mind when you think of Bruce Vilanch: bitingly funny, quick-witted, zaftig (although less so after his â€œCelebrity Fit Clubâ€ appearance), Emmy Award-winning, campy, flamingly gay.
Yes, as it turns out â€” sort of.
â€œIâ€™ve always felt spirituality is an intensely private thing,â€ he says from his Southern California home. â€œI have never been a fan of organized religion.
Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m a Jew, because weâ€™re so disorganized. We have no central office in Rome, no personality test for membership.â€
Which made Vilanch wonder why the Cathedral of Hope asked him to be the featured entertainment at the churchâ€™s gala and silent auction on Saturday.
â€œIâ€™m kinda floored that they ask me to be there â€” what exactly are they expecting of me?â€ he asks. Originally, he was asked to do â€œhis usual show,â€ but heâ€™s considering tailoring his act for gay Christians of Dallas.
â€œYou donâ€™t want to step on the augustness of the occasion â€” but then, I donâ€™t know how august it will be,â€ he says.
For those who canâ€™t attend the gala, however, Vilanch agreed to provide his own spiritual counsel and insight into religions, cults and all things otherworldly.
Vilanch has long claimed to be Jewish, although he admits that his pedigree does have elements of rumor.
â€œI was adopted when I was four days old, so thatâ€™s the legend,â€ he says.
But even if he wasnâ€™t born to a Jewish mother, he says the religion fits him well.
â€œThere are so many stripes in Judaism: You can be orthodox or conservative or reform, a whole range of practices. Itâ€™s a very convenient form of religion.â€
Not that any religion is without its flaws, he concedes.
â€œFundamentalists donâ€™t quite get that there is fundamentalism in every religion,â€ he sighs. â€œGay orthodox Jews are coping with the fundamentalism in that society that rejects them. Those lunatics in Saudi Arabia are fundamentalists as are the Mormons on â€˜Big Love.â€™ They believe in the old ways. So how are they different than George W. Bushâ€™s core-voting bloc? They are not.â€
Not that the old ways are all bad. Indeed, Vilanch laments how the ancient Jewish study of Kaballah has become diminished by its trendiness among some Hollywood elites.
â€œItâ€™s a mystical element to Judaism represented by Kaballah,â€ he says. â€œA generation of Jewish kids who grew up in the hippie period â€” and I count myself among them â€” gave it serious treatment in the 1960s and â€™70s. Thatâ€™s when this mystical sect came out of the closet.â€
But the Kaballah Center in California â€œexploited Madonna and Roseanne for unvarnished commercial reasons. Itâ€™s turned what has been a genuinely interesting study into something trendy and trivialized a legitimate sect of Judaism. That annoys me. But Iâ€™m sure Buddhists have been living with his for a long time â€” all those Jewish kids who started practicing it in the â€™60s and â€™70s.â€
Still, Vilanch asks, why is Episcopalianism never a trend?
Vilanch approaches Scientology, which has had even more press than Kaballah, with a sardonic sense of compassion.
â€œI donâ€™t know much about it, but I know they donâ€™t take psychotropic drugs. If I was talked off my drugs, I might behave as strangely as Tom Cruise, too,â€ he says.
He admits to having a difficult time getting riled up about the book and movie of â€œThe DaVinci Code,â€ which uncovered the alleged secrets of a sect of Catholicism that practices self-flagellation and supposedly maintains a dark truth about the life of Jesus Christ.
â€œIâ€™m so Jewish I view the whole thing with hilarity. If Catholics want to whip themselves into a frenzy, go for it,â€ he says with a sly laugh. â€œFrankly, I thought the movie was kind of a snore, just not a very good movie. But when has Ron Howard delivered a gripping thriller ever?â€
Ultimately, however, Vilanch treats spiritual pursuits as not only legitimate but essential to a proper life. He just feels people sometime emphasize the wrong elements.
â€œBut so much of spirituality has nothing to do with religion at all but having a moral and ethical sense and finding what draws you to that in life,â€ he says. â€œWhatever gets you to that point is a good thing.â€
Vilanch headlines â€œThereâ€™s No Place Like Hope,â€ the Cathedral of Hopeâ€™s annual gala, featuring dinner, dancing and silent auction with Dallas musical act â€œSignature Band.â€ Westin Galleria, 13340 Dallas Parkway. July 29 begins at 5:30 p.m.
Tickets start at $85. Available at www.TheresNoPlaceLikeHope.com or by calling 800-501-4673.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, July 28, 2006.